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Turkey and Ukraine Proceed with An-188 Transport Aircraft Program

At Eurasia Airshow 2018, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Ukroboronprom’s (UOP) Antonov jointly announced that they would proceed with the development and production of Antonov’s An-188 military transport aircraft.[1] The announcement follows an earlier agreement signed by the governments of Turkey and Ukraine in 2016 to jointly manufacture airliners and transport aircraft.[2]

Antonov revealed the An-188 during the 2015 Paris Air Show as a turbofan-engine variant of the An-70, which had originally been slated (in the 1990s and 2000s) as a propfan-based competitor to the Airbus A400M Atlas.[3] At the time, Antonov could not commit to a firm date as to when the An-188 would fly, but it had always intended to configure the An-188 with Western-origin engines and onboard electronics.[4]

The joint-production agreement between Antonov and TAI both maintains this framework, but it extends it as well by promising a ‘NATO-standard’ aircraft. Based on Ukroboronprom’s press statement, Antonov’s commitment to NATO compliance involves “westernization of all components, implementation of modern and reliable technical solutions, as well as full compliance with NATO standards.”[5]

The An-188 has the essential inputs – i.e. a credible funding source and launch customer in the form of Turkey, pursuit of existing turbofan engines and electronics and Antonov’s expertise – to materialize. As per Ukroboronprom’s press statement, TAI and Antonov will proceed to the “practical implementation of the project (An-188) in the near future.”[6] However, specific timelines have not been provided.

The Antonov An-188

Antonov originally revealed the An-188 during the 2015 Paris Air Show. The An-188 was to be a variant of the ill-fated (but potentially returning) An-70 propfan-based military transport aircraft. However, instead of using the Motor Sich D-27 propfan engines currently on the An-70, the An-188 was slated to use four Western-origin turbofan engines along with Western avionics and other onboard electronics.[7] The An-188 was not simply a ‘Westernized An-70’, but a separate (but related) platform with enlarged wings.[8] With TAI committing to NATO-standards, Antonov’s original plan for the An-188 will remain.

According to Ukroboronprom, the TAI-Antonov An-188 will have a payload capacity of 50 tons, which can translate into carrying most kinds of cargo including helicopters, containers, troops and other items.[9] In addition, the An-188 will be designed to operate from runways as short as 600 to 800 m.[10] The An-188 will leverage the short take-off and landing (STOL) capability to undertake an array of mission profiles, from military-lift to humanitarian operations in relatively inaccessible areas.[11] Finally, the An-188’s turbofan engines will offer long-range flight and fuel-efficiency for competitive lifecycle and operating costs.[12]

Based on these specifications, the An-188 will possess a heavier payload capacity than the C-130J-30 (20 tons) and the Airbus A400M (37 tons). It appears that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) foresee the An-188 as a strategic airlifter different in intended scope and role from the A400M or C-130. In fact, Turkey already operates the A400M and is among the Atlas’ industrial workshare partners.[13] Thus, it is unlikely TAI would compete with not just its own product, but a key program of its industry partners in the European Union.

Regarding Ukroboronprom, the An-188 will offer Antonov with a direct competitor to the Russian Ilyushin IL-76, a ubiquitous transport and tanker platform in the developing world market. In fact, the An-188 will offer comparable payload (50 tons) to the IL-76MD-90A’s 60 tons. Besides the IL-76MD-90A, the Xi’an Y-20 could also be a competitor if it joins the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s export portfolio.

It is unclear if Antonov and TAI will equip the An-188 for the air-to-air refueling (AAR) tanker role. Antonov had offered an AAR variant of the An-70 – i.e. An-112KC – to the US, but unlike the four-engine An-188, the An-112KC was offered with two high-bypass turbofan engines. However, the An-188’s enlarged wings (through which TAI and/or Antonov can equip the An-188 with hose-and-drogue refueling pods) could allude to the AAR tanker role as a possibility in the long-term.

Building a Complete Aviation Portfolio

By signing onto the An-188, TAI is effectively building a complete aviation portfolio of products it can own and market to other countries, especially in the long-term. Granted, each of these programs are in varying – but generally early – stages of development, but they include the TFX next-generation fighter, the ATAK-2 attack helicopter, 10-ton general purpose/transport helicopter, the Hürjet lead-in-fighter-trainer (LIFT), the An-188 heavy-transport aircraft and three satellite designs (a low-earth orbit observation design and two geosynchronous-earth-orbit communications designs) on offer.

The Turkish Undersecretariat of Defence Industries’ (SSM) objective is to both locally source its next wave of defence hardware as well as drive big-ticket exports. In December 2017, the Turkish Government had announced that it spent a total of $60 billion US in various defence programs (aimed at strengthening its defence industry) since 2002.[14] The SSM stated that the country’s aviation businesses accrued $1.6 billion US in exports in 2016.[15] To generate additional long-term returns, Ankara evidently believes in possessing a relatively comprehensive portfolio of products for domestic and overseas markets.

Partnering with Antonov enables TAI to leverage not only a mature base of expertise for developing and manufacturing military transport aircraft, but an existing and tangible program. Granted, the An-188 has yet to materialize, but its core platform – the An-70 – does exist. In turn, the An-70 provides Antonov and TAI pre-existing progress in terms of the aircraft’s design, feasibility as well as ground and aerial testing.

Yes, a new series of development work and tests will be required for incorporating the An-188’s changes to the An-70 (e.g. new turbofan engines). However, neither TAI or Antonov are starting ‘from scratch’; in fact, considering that Antonov had unveiled the An-188 in 2015 and that Turkey agreed to collaborate on transport aircraft in 2016, the An-188 should be close to entering active development.

Leveraging Turkish Funding and Scale with Ukrainian Expertise

To Ukraine, securing TAI as a partner for the An-188 fulfills numerous policy objectives. First, it guarantees continued development and production activity for the Ukrainian defence industry. The specific details as to how workshare and marketing rights will be divided have not been disclosed, but it is in Kiev’s interests to ensure the An-188 generates domestic work and opportunities for foreign currency gain (i.e. exports).

In fact, from Kiev’s perspective, a lower-than-ideal proportion of production with TAI would still be more than no production work at all from a non-starter An-188 program.  The second benefit stems from Kiev’s interest in re-equipping its armed forces with modern weapon-systems. Besides inducting new hardware, there is a conscious effort on the part of the Ukrainian government to align its equipment with NATO.[16]

By leveraging Turkey as a source for credible funding and scale, especially at launch, Ukraine now gains a modern airlift platform for its domestic use (and drawing on Ukraine’s industry).

Turkey joins Saudi Arabia as Antonov’s aircraft co-production partners. In 2016, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Pakistan had even offered aircraft co-development and co-production opportunities to Islamabad.[17] It would not be surprising if Ukraine is still open to securing additional partners for its aviation industry, especially with Kiev still interested in supporting the original propfan-powered An-70 (i.e. An-77).

A Cost-Sensitive Alternative?

One of the promising aspects of Ukrainian defence programs is the potential for capable, but lower-cost alternatives to US and Western European systems. However, the An-188 – be its inclusion of Western sub-systems to complying with NATO-standards – need not promise as much. Rather, TAI and Antonov have opted to offer a product to NATO and non-NATO markets that – while lighter – fulfills the role the Boeing C-17 had until its production-line shuttered in 2015. Though ambitious, it could set the An-188 as a fairly costly option, which could preclude its adoption in cost-sensitive markets in the developing world.

By choosing turbofan engines, it is unclear how well the An-188 will fare in hot-and-high environments. A high-altitude airfield in Pakistan’s Northern Areas may not have sufficient air density to generate enough thrust for take-off, especially in STOL conditions. To be fair, one can argue that choosing turbofan engines over propfans was a deliberate decision on Turkey’s part because the TSK already possessed a strong hot-and-high asset in the A400M. Thus, the TSK sought a complementary asset to the A400M.

If one looks at Pakistan, the An-188 would be an appropriate analogue to the IL-78 (at least in terms of a heavy-transport aircraft), but it would not fulfill the mission-role held by the C-130B/E. In this respect, the propfan-equipped An-77 would be a better fit; though it would have a heavier payload capacity, it should be able to operate in hot-and-high environments. Thus, though the An-188 provides valuable activity for the Ukrainian defence industry, making in-roads in the transport aircraft market – especially in developing world states – could require the An-77 to materialize. Currently, Antonov has yet to secure a partner for bringing the An-77 to fruition, but the platform was on offer during Eurasia Airshow 2018.

[1] Press Release. “An-188: Turkish-Ukrainian Aircraft in Accordance with NATO Standards”. UkrOboronProm. 03 May 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 16 May 2018).

[2] “Turkey and Ukraine sign joint plane manufacturing project”. Daily Sabah. 15 May 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 16 May 2018).

[3] Nicholas de Larrinaga. “Paris Air Show 2015: Antonov reveals An-188 strategic transport aircraft.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 16 June 2015. URL: (Last Accessed: 22 May 2018).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Press Release. Ukroboronprom. May 2018.

[7] Larrinaga. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. June 2015.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Press Release. UkrOboronProm. May 2018.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Press Release. “Airbus Military Has Signed MoU with Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (TAI) to Establish A Joint Company in Turkey.” Airbus Military. 28 June 2012. via Defense-Aerospace. URL: (Last Accessed: 16 May 2018).

[14] “Turkey spent $60B on 553 defense projects, 65 pct of production domestic”. Daily Sabah. 01 December 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 16 May 2018).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Illia Ponomarenko. “Ukraine has to do more than adopt NATO standards, alliance envoys say”. Kyiv Post. 27 February 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 16 May 2018).

[17] Usman Ansari. “Ukrainian Defense Cooperation Push With Pakistan Unrealistic”. Defense News. 10 February 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 18 May 2018).

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